The first snows have already fallen, both in the Pyrénées and in the Alps and your thoughts may well be turning to a Winter holiday in France. You may not yet have decided whether to fly, take the train or drive to your holiday destination and there are obviously advantages and disadvantages to each option. My personal preference is to drive down and to treat the trip as part of my holiday, breaking the journey at a B&B where I know I will get a warm welcome and be looked after.
But what about the practicalities? What distances and times are we looking at from Calais to the ski resorts in the Alps? Here are some guidelines.
– Serre Chevalier 600 miles/8-9 hours
– Chamonix 560 miles/7-8 hours
– Tignes/Val d’Isere – 620 miles/9 hours
– Morzine/Avoriaz – 550 miles/8 hours
– 3 Vallees/Val Thorens – 605 miles/9 hours
– Paradiski Les Arcs/La Plagne – 620 miles/10hours
The French autoroute network
You should count on toll costs of around €70 from Calais to the Alps. The French autoroutes are so much quieter than the UK motorways and generally a real pleasure to use. The service stations or ‘Aires’ range from lovely little pull-ins equipped with toilets and picnic tables away from the road, to the full service stations with fuel, restaurant and toilet facilities. I find the French Autoroute website invaluable when planning a journey through France. For live, up to date news on the state of the autoroute network in France, the Bison Futé website is also invaluable and well worth consulting before you leave for your ski holiday.
To keep costs down, I would highly recommend you try and fuel up away from the autoroute. The price difference can be in excess of €0.15 per litre which can make a massive difference to the cost of your holiday. The small detour off your route more than makes up for the cost saving. All of the major supermarkets have websites on which you can find the nearest outlet. Try and plan where you are going to fill up before you set off;
Using the Toll system
If you are driving on the toll roads for the first time it really does help to know in advance how the system works. As you enter a tolled section of autoroute, you will need to take a ticket from the machine. Simple. Just don’t lose the ticket! Keep it somewhere accessible along with your credit card (Visa and Mastercard are accepted on the network). As you are leaving a tolled section of the autoroute, you will approach a ‘Gare de Péage’. The only thing you need to remember is NOT to head for a lane with an Orange ‘T’ sign indicating Télépéage unless you have purchased a Liber-t transponder in advance. The terminals in all of the other lanes, not just the ones showing CB or the card symbol, are equipped with a slot for credit cards. If however you would like the reassurance of handing your card over to a real person, then head for a lane showing the ‘attendant’ symbol where your payment will be taken manually. Easy!
Breaking your journey
Plan an overnight in a B&B as part of your journey. That way you will arrive in resort in good time, fresh and ready to hit the slopes. Here are my suggestions for good value B&Bs which are close to the autoroute network.
If you can’t set off from the UK until the afternoon, then you won’t want to be stopping for your overnight break too far from Calais. 45 minutes down the autoroute and just 5 minutes from junction 4 of the A26, this wonderfully French B&B is just the ticket for a welcoming, relaxing stay on your first night in France. Family-friendly, English-speaking and with superb evening meals, it provides great value accommodation.
3 hours down the A26 from Calais, the Champagne area is a popular choice for a stopover en route to a ski holiday in the Alps. This British-owned B&B is conveniently located in the village of Mailly-Champagne south of Reims and within easy reach of junction 26 of the A344 autoroute. It’s great value, family friendly and you can buy Champagne from the Coop just along the road.
Further South again, 3kms from junction 21 of the A26 autoroute, 3h45m South of Calais and between Reims and Troyes in Champagne, this family-friendly bed and breakfast is very popular with people travelling to the Alps and indeed to their holidays in the South of France, and deservedly so in my opinion! The accommodation is so typically French, the rooms spacious and the gardens peaceful and of course you are assured of a warm welcome from your English-speaking hosts.
If you wish to travel for 4-6 hours from Calais before breaking your journey to the Alps, then anywhere between Auxerre and Dijon in Burgundy should be your target for the night. This family-friendly and superb value bed and breakfast is just 15 minutes/10kms from exit 23 of the A6 autoroute in Burgundy and is a real hit with younger children. They will love the farm animals and the attention they will get from English-speaking Madame. Oh, and make sure you book an evening meal which will be the highlight of your stay.
Lastly, if you happen to have got off an early Shuttle/ferry at Calais and are able to drive for 6h45 before breaking your journey, this gorgeous family-friendly bed and breakfast on a vineyard estate near Macon in southern Burgundy is the spot for you. Classically French in the decor, typically French in the welcome, you will appreciate the two family suites, the evening meals and the chance to purchase some lovely local wine before continuing your onward journey to your ski holiday in the Alps.